Something that I’ve found I miss quite a bit is being able to watch Sportscenter’s Top 10 each day when I get up and before bed. Not the whole episode, just the last 10 minute highlight reel (even better on Friday’s, for the Not Top 10). In that spirit, then, I’ve decided to make this post a brief top ten of occurrences in Mali that otherwise would probably not get a full length blog post.
10- African Bush Taxis. Look them up on the internet. They are green. They go too fast. There are no seatbelts. There are only wooden benches inside. You negotiate a lower price by telling the driver he is a bean eater and his compatriot is a hard-boiled egg. They are the best place to make new friends and work on your language skills. Most repairs are done on the fly with rope and a mallet at 60mph while you swerve to avoid other bush taxis. And they make you wonder why the D.C. Metro can’t manage to be more efficient. Or exciting.
9- The Stars. The moon gives off a surprising amount of light, so you really only get the most amazing stars on the nights when it’s absent. However, on these lucky nights you can see satellites, the Milky Way (I think), shooting stars, and bats (which apparently don’t exist, they are simply “night birds”). It is incredibly peaceful to sit outside and watch them, especially when the theme song to Titanic is on in the background on repeat and the children are humming along both out of tune and rhythm. As long as the mosquitoes aren’t biting too badly, it really is pretty awesome.
8- A lack of Silverware. Eating with your hand and spilling all over yourself is actually quite enjoyable. Try it.
7- Gladiator Children. Being a celebrity in my village (TOUBABU, TOUBABU!!!), the children can spot me from a great distance and always come running, regardless of what I’m doing. This includes when I’m biking at great speeds, as they seem not to mind throwing their bodies in front of my tires or attempting to grab onto the back and get violently dragged down the sewage filled road. Each morning they find great pleasure by watching me eat breakfast in silence, and each evening they violently beat one another for the privilege to carry my bike helmet into my room. I always reward the victor, and give the “thumbs-down” to the losers. And then we all play soccer in the road till dark.
6- Killing flies. The last thing my parents gave me before I left was a pair of fly swatters, telling me to “be ready for the flies”. It’s on flies. I kill at least 30 of you a day (not an exaggeration) and yet you still continue to win the battle of getting into my food, drink, and mouth when I’m not paying attention. I taught my host sister how to use the other swatter, and now we have contests to see how many we can off in a certain period of time. I’m batting a .242 right now; Tarri a .345.
5- The Fairly Odd Parents. The family I live with is a riot, nothing more and nothing less. We make animal noises (usually donkey) at one another to communicate and greet. My host mom sings a song to my face which I’m pretty sure is about how stupid I am. My host dad makes me call my mom bald each time we’re together. They think the moon landing was fake, but swear people live on mars. And though they use their left hands as toilet paper, they got very offended when they found out I spit my toothpaste into the nygen (toilet) and asked me politely to stop. Now I spit in on the ground in the middle of my compound and the children play in it. No big deal, I love them all haha.
4- Photos. Photos from home are much appreciated and very helpful. Malians love to see them, and they certainly get you through a rough day. Thanks to my dad, quite a few of you who are in photos with me on facebook are also posted on the walls of my hut. Send some more if you don’t think you’ve been included yet, or have some particularly fond memories from a night none of us remember.
3- Letters. My family has been writing me letters which have been incredibly inspirational. Should you feel the desire to write one, I’ll write one back to you in response. I keep them all in order in a binder. It’s rather old fashioned, but there are certain values technology will never replace.
2- An African Playground. Behind my house, as I get towards where some of my other Banankoro friends live, are miles of single track dirt roads just begging to be ridden by someone on a mountain bike. I often take the long way home each evening after class just for 30 minutes of stress relief and time to think about nothing else than what’s in front of me as I go tearing through the fields. And don’t worry Dad, I do my best to avoid repeating the California incident (knock on wood).
1- Soccer at Toubaniso. On the brief and infrequent occasion we’re back at our training center, a group of us get together and play soccer each evening after work and class. Guys, girls, Peace Corps kids and hired cooks; we all come together and for one hour each evening stop what we’re doing and play on a field of compact dirt, rocks, ant hills, and the rare clump of grass. The games put us through the physical paces while simultaneously relaxing us. While we usually communicate in at least three different languages during the matches, we all come together for the love of the game and the brief hour where we get to take a brake from our responsibilities and make the most of a West African evening. This earns the number one spot every time.